Anna Pavlova

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One of the first dancers from the Imperial Russian Ballet to dance in Western Europe, Anna Pavlova has been awarded near-mythical status as the Prima Ballerina who brought ballet into the 21 Century. Born on 12 February 1881 in Russia, she often went to the theatre and the Sleeping Beauty ballet made a great impression on her when she was 9. She was taken for an audition to the Imperial Royal Ballet School but was rejected because of her age and what was considered to be a “sickly” appearance but was accepted a year later. Her early dancing years were difficult as she had: severely arched feet, thin ankles, long limbs and an uncommon body shape compared to most ballerinas of that time.She graduated at the age of 18 and was allowed to enter the Imperial Ballet a rank ahead of corps de ballet as a coryphée. She made her official début at the Mariinsky Theatre in Pavel Gerdt’s Les Dryades prétendues (The False Dryads). Her performance drew praise, particularly from the great critic and historian Nikolai Bezobrazov. Her breakthrough performance was The Dying Swan choreographed for her by Michael Folkine and she also worked briefly for Sergei Diaghliev in the early years of the Ballet Russes. In 1912, Pavlova moved to London, where she lived for the rest of her life.Whilst touring in The Hague, Pavlova discovered that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. The story goes that she refused to have the surgery, saying “If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead.” She died of pleurisy in 1931 three weeks short of her 50th birthday. She was holding her costume from The Dying Swan when she spoke her last words, “Play the last measure very softly” in the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague. In accordance with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been. Pavlova was an ardent fundraiser in her lifetime. She organised charity performances to aid victims of Russian famine and opened an orphanage for Russian children at St Cloud, Paris in 1920.


Anna Pavlova – The Dying Swan